The American Dream Webquest at the OS

The American Nightmare

About the Failure of the American Dream

According to the so-called „American Dream“ the United States is the country of the free and the brave where everyone can achieve his aim for a good life and luck. All men are viewed as equal and therefore have the same chances in life. In fact there is not much left of this dream. Following several newspapers, „the American Dream is More Livable in the Old World“ today, than in the US.

The idea that James Truslow Adams had when he coined the term of the “American Dream” in 1931 was that everyone is equal and has the same right to strive for his luck. For sure, everyone still can strive for his luck, but in many cases he won't be very successful in his efforts as long as he's from the lower class of society.

class-roomThis is to some extent due to the fact that in the last couple of years higher education has become a “luxury-priced necessity”1, as is noted in an article by the New York writer Leanne Shear. Without good education, young people don't have a chance of getting a well-paid job. As there is no standard school system for everyone, but a system of expensive private schools for the economical prosperous and a system of state-financed schools that lack resources and quality teaching, it is obvious that the children of the poorer start out their career with lower chances for a good future.

Wal-MartThe possibilities to climb the internal career ladder within a company once one has a job, are also not as good as they were before the “Wal-Martization” of America, as a laborer-unfriendly tendency is called, which has spread in the last three decades: Companies try to keep their costs as low as possible by outsourcing parts of their business, hiring temporary and part-time workers and fighting workers' unions. Parts of the “white-collar” jobs are also moved to China and India, where employees are much cheaper than in the US. A BusinessWeek commentary from 2003 says that more than a quarter of the labor force are trapped in “low-wage, often dead-end jobs”. This makes a number of about 34 million workers with no chances of rising up in their social mobility.2

StatistikRecent studies have shown that “only 14 percent of the men born to fathers on the bottom 10 percent of the wage ladder made it to the top 30 percent”3 and that “only 17 percent of the men born to fathers on the top 10 percent” of the wage ladder “fell to the bottom 30 percent”4.

The loss of upward mobility began in the 1970s when the post-World War II productivity boom was over and got even more serious in the 1980s due to globalisation and technology development.

MoneyConcluding, one must confess that the dream of a career “from rags to riches” has clearly become unrealistic in todays America as it has moved towards a “from riches to riches” reality: Parents who are wealthy can afford better schools and can pay better medical treatment for their kids, which positively adds up to improving their performance in life. The favoritism which often decided whether one gets a certain position in a company or not gives additional advantage to those whose parents have the right connections available. US-President George W. Bush is a great example of this system.
The notion that “any child can grow up to be president” seems to be not more than a poor joke in our days.

Going a bit further one could even say that the American Dream is a “mendacious label for chauvinist strivings, unwarranted feelings of superiority and thoughtless crimes against nature in the name of unbridled progress” as Peter Freese describes the feelings of some people towards the American Dream in his essay “The American Dream and the American Nightmare: General Aspects and Literary Examples”5.

The American Nightmare within our lecture „The Tortilla Curtain“
In our recent course lecture - „The Tortilla Curtain“ by T.C. Boyle - there's a couple of illegal immigrants who came to the USA because they wanted to escape the poverty and the lack of perspective in their hometown in Mexico. When they come for reaching their personal decent version of the American Dream – a roof over their heads, work enough for a small income and security for themselves and the child to be born – they must face the hard reality that keeps them from improving their situation. In his "fable" Boyle shows that the American Dream doesn't work as easy any more as it might have done so for the first early settlers who came there, desperately striving for a better life in the „land of the unlimited potentials“.The Tortilla Curtain

Fabian Everding

  1. AlterNet: America’s Broken Bootstraps
  2. BW Online | December 1, 2003 | Commentary: Waking Up From The American Dream
  3. FRAC News Digest - May 20, 2005
  4. As rich-poor gap widens in U.S., class mobility stalls
  5. Peter Freese - “The American Dream and the American Nightmare: General Aspects and Literary Examples“, “American Popular Culture”, ISBN 3533037266, Carl Winter Universitätsverlag, Heidelberg 1985